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Levi's Growth Strategy: The PLG Back-Pocket Design and The Cultural Tradeoffs

Levi's is the original jean company. They create durable jeans with high sizing precision. This case dives into some of the PLG growth motions Levi's has and the tradeoffs they've made to keep it running.

Logo Placement

The decision to place the Levi's logo on the back pocket was informed by visibility—targeting the area where people look most.

Tightly Integrated

The Levi's patch is integrated into the garment's construction. Attempting to remove it will permanently damage the jeans. Removing the logo means removing the jeans. Apparently, Levi’s was the one to invent the back-pocket patch.

You Cannot Pay More to Whitelabel

Unlike SaaS companies that frequently offer 'brand removal' as a premium feature, Levi's doesn't provide this option. You cannot buy jeans without the patch. This decision by Levi's helps in maintaining the aspirational quality of their brand. In contrast, when SaaS companies charge extra to remove their branding, it can create a perception that having their brand visible is undesirable.

Typeform’s branding can be removed at $50. If you get the $20 one, are you kinda cheap or do you like to associate yourself with the brand?

Hotjar’s can be removed with the $84 plan. If you're a young startup and can't afford the other two plans, do you really want to advertise for Hotjar for free just because you can't afford to pay for it? It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, doesn't it? Couldn't they make it more aspirational?"

Superhuman is one that has somewhat managed to make it aspirational. Eventually, they converted it to an affiliate link to drive up shares a little more.

Design Aesthetics

If the design looks good, people are okay with not removing it. They are happy to show it off.

Symbiotic PLG

By partnering with Lycra, Levi's not only incorporated the technology into their denim but also leveraged Lycra's brand reputation. The Lycra tag placement on each garment offers visibility for both brands, illustrating a symbiotic PLG strategy. For Lycra, an enteprise sales deal converted into a PLG opportunity.

Would you choose PLG or cultural sensitivity?

Durability of PLG

Levi's uses cow leather for their patches. They say cow leather is far more durable than vegan leather.

Patches don’t add value to the customer. Vegan patches are 3x better for the environment. And no tags are even better.

And as a customer, you might not mind if a tag wears out. But for Levi's, a lasting tag keeps their name out there even after a hundred washes. It's a walking ad on your jeans, and Levi's makes sure it's built to last.

The Constraint

But.. here’s the problem.

Levi's is prioritizing product longevity over cultural sensitivity or the environment.

In India, cows are sacred. Leather items are not permitted in many temples, and various religions, including Jainism, take utmost care not to harm animals needlessly.

Many Indians will be surprised to know their jeans use cow leather.

I personally know people who’ve turned down millions of dollars of revenue just because it hurt their religious sentiments.

Levi’s doesn’t hide the fact that they use cow leather but it also doesn’t openly disclose it.

It reminds me of the 1857 movement for India's independence.

Under British rule, Indian soldiers were issued rifle cartridges greased with cow and pig fat. Initially, the British concealed this fact, and even after the soldiers discovered the truth, they were still forced to use them. Since biting the cartridges was necessary to use them, it deeply offended the Hindu soldiers, for whom cows are sacred, and the Muslim soldiers, who view pigs as unclean. This act was perceived not merely as an insult but as a blatant disrespect of their faith and traditions.

Here’s part 1 (where trust was established)). And part 2 (where trust was broken).

You'll notice they mentioned that cartridges with grease were better than the old ones and that the company aimed to make a profit. As every company should.

Today, the use of cow leather in jeans, while not meant to be offensive, might still strike a sensitive chord, given the profound cultural and historical significance. It's a tradeoff Levi's had to make and only time will tell what works better.

Unfortunately, Levi’s has another problem.

Jeans aren’t fast fashion. Frequency of purchase is relatively low. If the branding doesn’t last as long as their jeans, will Levi’s be incentivized to continue producing durable jeans? Maybe not.

Advertising and Seasonal Strategies

You see the patch when people wear tops, but not when they wear coats.

Their ads aim to promote the same trend - wear outfits that are shorter.

Although, I think in colder climates though, people will layer on and wear coats. Maybe then, in those cases, they might want to have logos at a different place.

Levi’s could consider having a winter as well as summer collection. Drive up seasonality and double purchases depending on seasons.

Piggybacking on the Army

Jeans was issued by the US Govt for the army to wear. White tees were their undergarments. That's how we got the classic white tees with blue jean look.

Military has a tremendous amouth of influence over civilian fashion. Think about cargo pants, trench coats, parkas.

Think about anarkalis (mughals), lehengas (rajputs), turbans (sikhs) and khaki (swadeshi movement).

If you want your product to last more than a trend, you might want to piggyback on a story that lasts longer than a hundred years. The military is one way that requires durability and evokes heightened emotional responses.

Having Patents Is Awesome

After Levi’s patent for jeans expired, they lost quite a bit of money. It was hard to recover. Disney was pretty clever how they extended their patents but Levi's, not so much.

While durable products like jeans offer longevity, this also presents a challenge to repeat purchases, especially in contrast to fast fashion trends.


History of Levi’s

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